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Fire Risk in Woods Triggers Funding

June 27, 2003|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

Federal emergency officials approved a $3.3-million grant Thursday to help San Bernardino and Riverside counties pay for removing dead and dying trees that pose a serious fire risk in mountain communities such as Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear Lake.

Hundreds of thousands of trees throughout the region have become fuel for a wildfire after four years of drought and an infestation of bark beetles, which burrow under the bark and feed on weakened trees.

Officials in the two counties, who applied for the money months ago, feared red tape would delay approval of the funding until long after the fire season.

The $3.3 million was left over from a seismic improvement project at Cal State San Bernardino.

Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Redlands), who drafted legislation setting the money aside to combat the fire danger, said he and Rep. Mary Bono (R-Palm Springs) met Wednesday with Michael D. Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to urge him to release the money quickly.

"I was expecting it would take a few days, not one day," Lewis said Thursday.

News that the money had been released came only four days after Riverside County officials received an erroneous report that the money had been diverted to other uses.

The grant will pay for crews and equipment to clear dry and diseased trees and open fire escape routes for tourists and mountain residents.

"We are sitting right on the edge of a crisis," Lewis said.

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